A day after customs officials seized 30 kilograms of gold from diplomatic baggage addressed to the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, it has been found that former employees of the consulate were involved in the smuggling case.
As per reports, a former employee of the Consulate, Sarith Nair, is under the custody of the customs department. Another former employee, Swapna Suresh, is absconding. Both of them were employees at the Consulate until six months ago.
After the job at the Consulate, Swapna was working as a contract official at Kerala government's Information Technology department. She was suspended from the IT department on Monday.
Before the job at the Consulate, Swapna had worked at Air India Sats, a joint agency of Air India Limited, and SATS Limited, that handles ground and cargo operations. There was also another case against Swapna for giving a fake complaint against an officer in the agency.
Sarith was the former Public Relations Officer at the Consulate. He used a fake identity card to collect the diplomatic baggage with the smuggled gold.
The gold, worth around Rs 15 crore, was allegedly smuggled into the state in a chartered flight. As per reports, the baggage had reached the airport on Friday and officials confirmed it on Sunday.
According to sources in the Thiruvananthapuram airport, gold was smuggled in diplomatic baggage several times.
Although customs officials haven't given any official statement regarding the case yet, it is the first time that the officials seized the gold. Usually, customs officials do not have the permission to check diplomatic baggage; but this time, they had proper information about gold being smuggled into the country and had sought prior permission from authorities for the check.
The gold, which was in cylindrical shapes, was hidden inside steel pipes. The baggage, which also contained some door locks, air compressors and iron rods, was addressed to an officer in the Consulate. The senderâ€™s address bore the name of the officerâ€™s wife. But both the officer and the wife denied ownership of the parcel.
As per reports, more people are linked to the case and the officials have clear information about them.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala alleged, "After the gold was seized, someone had contacted from the Chief Minister's office to protect the people involved in the case. How did this woman (Swapna), who has link in this case, get a job in the IT department? She was appointed through PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) company. She has a close connection to the CM's office. Chief Minister should be answerable."
BJP state president K Surendran also alleged that the CM's office is linked to the case.
Responding to these latest development in the case, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, "I appreciate the officers who found this smuggled gold. They have got details of the persons involved. The case is probed by customs and I believe they will do it rightly." The CM said he is not aware about Swapna's appointment to the IT department.
In a statement, PwC said, "The concerned individual was on the payroll of a third party agency which provides specialized short term resources to us. The agency is under a contractual obligation to meet all statutory compliances and conduct necessary background verification of all the resources deployed on our projects and confirm the protocols have been followed. In this case as well, the agency specifically confirmed the same."